First of all, Happy New Year to all Newcastle fans. I trust everyone is well. After taking in all of the festive games, the question that has arisen in my mind after the Manchester United defeat is simple.
How do you solve a problem like Jonjo Shelvey?
Now, I asked the question after the game and some of the responses from my circle that came back, ranged from mild acknowledgement at my thinking, to my argument simply containing a few coincidences. However, there are too many of those coincidences stacking up to simply overlook the matter and not at least question Shelvey’s place in the team, for example the position he actually plays and/or the fact that he’s in the team at all.
Let’s start with a personal opinion, I don’t dislike Jonjo Shelvey. I think he has an outstanding pass on him, a decent shot, is dynamic and robust and as I’ve said elsewhere, if Ayoze Perez continues to misfire and fall about looking for non-existent free kicks, Shelvey could be deployed further forward and used as a No.10, I certainly see him in a similar mould to a Paul Scholes or a Frank Lampard, if not of the same quality.
His downsides are in my opinion that he’s often a liability, as was displayed with his thigh high assault on Paul Pogba against Manchester United that, if the ref hadn’t seen it, or if a more sterner ref had, he would definitely be looking at a ban coming his way and not for the first time for such affairs. He’s not a defensive midfielder (which is a polite way of saying he can’t tackle) and if he was pushed further forward it would at least free up some responsibility and allow him to help out where we need it most, which is in attack.
It’s not like he wouldn’t be prevented from playing his great ‘Hollywood’ passes when we are defending set-pieces, which he would obviously be back to defend in any case, it would just free him up to not worry about being in that midfield engine room where his frailties are sometimes exposed.
Another angle which is worth looking at, which some of my fellow supporters labelled as coincidental, was the fact that we have a tendency to drop goals (and points) when Shelvey is on the field and we tend to play more football (and achieve results) when he’s not there, I was a bit shocked at that but it’s true. When he went off in the second half against Watford in November, the ever impressive Ki Sung Yeung came on and supplied the delivery for Perez to score the goal that won the game. The very next match Shelvey missed, Ki played once again and turned in a great performance, playing a great ball out for Kenedy to whip a cross in for Rondon’s second goal and that game easily being our best display of the season.
An impressive victory away at Burnley followed where Shelvey was passed fit to be on the bench but crucially didn’t get on the field throughout. The trick was repeated in the next away fixture where Shelvey once again remained on the bench for the full 90 minutes down at Goodison Park and we came away with a very impressive 1-1 draw. Jonjo was absent completely from the side that beat relegation rivals Huddersfield away from home in mid December.
Shelvey then re-appeared as a 79th minute substitute down at Watford and within three minutes a 1-0 win was turned into a 1-1 draw with more points dropped. Finally on Wednesday, with Newcastle battling their way through against Manchester United, Mo Diame went off to be replaced by Shelvey and in 10 minutes we were a goal down.
Now, there are mitigating circumstances in any scenario. When Shelvey came on against the Mancs, we actually threatened to take the lead through some great passes by the man himself, we were looking dangerous before Martin Dubravka’s fumble. Against West Ham we were collectively awful with Shelvey only coming on when the game was up. We threw a point away against Wolves at St James’ with Jonjo nowhere in sight of the first team and again we were nigh on unwatchable against Fulham two weeks ago with Shelvey absent once again.
Like I’ve said, it’s not wholly the problem of the man (although I would still question his temperament) as much as the position he is played but the question is there to be asked….What do you do to get the best out of Jonjo Shelvey? Sell him? Drop him? Move him around the side?
If you sell him there’s the question of who do you replace him with, if you drop him the same question is there with his natural replacement Ki missing in action for the next few weeks. The only option I can come to is that you move him to that No.10 position and hopefully give Ayoze Perez the rocket that he needs in the process.
With Newcastle faltering, the ‘Shelvey Problem’ is a fair point to be raised. If we are going to survive, it’s going to be by the skin of our teeth. Beggars can’t be choosers and as it is abundantly clear that there will be nowt to spend this window, we are going to have to make do with what we’ve got in some shape or form. This doesn’t fill me with much optimism at all.
We have a chronically underfunded squad with minimal quality, albeit with maximum possible effort. It’s clear that we need a left back, at the same time we need to improve on Ayoze Perez’ form which tends to average two good games in ten. We also need a creative midfielder at some point. I’ve made it clear that I don’t expect to see any new faces come in this month so the left back situation and rectifying the other two aforementioned problems aren’t going to be solved by recruitment.
The only solution is to get the best out of what we’ve got and to do this I feel we urgently need to get to grips with this ‘Shelvey Problem’.